Valliant Women of the Vote

Women’s History Month 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment, which stated “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” It became part of the US Constitution on August 18, 1920, and was then certified as law on August 26, 1920. While it allowed some women to participate in the election process, the amendment did not initially extend to women of African American, Asian American, Native American, or Latinx heritage.

We celebrate the courageous women of all races and ethnicities and from all walks of life, who have marched and sacrificed to make their voices heard. 

Early suffragists, activists, and abolitionists like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Maria Weston Chapman, Alice Paul, and others worked tirelessly for the amendment, although widespread sexism, discrimination, and racism continued to influence who had the right to vote and who did not.  

Women of color such as Mary Church Terrell, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Sojourner Truth, Jovita Idár, and Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Widemann Dowsett, and others continued to ensure voting rights for all by fighting poll taxes, literacy tests, voter roll purges, and other more contemporary forms of voter suppression.

Nearly a half century later on August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act was signed, lifting long-standing barriers blocking Black women from exercising their right to vote. However, some Latinx, Native, and Asian American women had to wait even longer. In 1975, the federal government passed voting rights amendments that prohibited discrimination against “language minority” citizens.

Oregon’s Suffragettes

Between 1870 and 1912, Oregon placed the question of women’s voting rights on the ballot six times—more than any other US state—and passed it in November 1912.

Remembered as Oregon’s “Mother of Equal Suffrage,” the outspoken and often-controversial Abigail Scott Duniway championed women’s rights in the Northwest for more than 40 years. Read Scott Duniway’s diary in UO Libraries Special Collections and University Archives.

A leader in the struggle for Oregon woman suffrage, Harriet “Hattie” Redmond helped lay the groundwork for the mid-20th century Black Civil Rights movement. In the years after women in Oregon won the right to vote, Lizzie Weeks organized Black women to empower them to be successful voters. Weeks was the first female African American social worker to be employed by Multnomah County. These represent only a few of the many women from diverse backgrounds who fought for Oregon women’s right to vote.

Women in Oregon Government

Edith Green (1910–1987) was the second Oregon woman to be elected to the US House of Representatives. Green played an instrumental role in passing Title X and the Higher Education Act. She also sponsored the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which required that women be paid as much as men for equal work.

Mercedes Deiz (1917–2005), first black female lawyer in Oregon in 1960 and in 1969, and the first woman of color to become a judge in Oregon.

Maurine Brown Neuberger (1906–2000), first and only woman from Oregon to serve in the US Senate.

Nan Wood Honeyman (1881–1970), first woman elected to Congress from Oregon, in 1937.

Betty Roberts (1923–2011), first woman appointed to the Oregon Court of Appeals (1977) and first woman appointed to the Oregon Supreme Court (1982).

Norma Paulus (1933–2019), first women in Oregon history to win a state office when she was elected Secretary of State in 1976.

Barbara Roberts served as 34th governor of Oregon from 1991 to 1995.

Susan Castillo was the first Latina elected to the Oregon State Legislature and first to hold statewide elected office as superintendent of public instruction.

Oregon governor Kate Brown is the first openly bisexual governor in the United States, the first openly LGBTQ person elected governor in the United States, and the second female governor of Oregon, after Barbara Roberts.

Adrienne Nelson, the second Black female judge in Oregon history, is an associate justice of the Oregon Supreme Court.

Reshaping Leadership

One hundred years ago, women began the process of achieving the right to vote, and as the decades have passed, more and more women have gained those rights. Now women of all backgrounds and identities are demanding their place at the governing table. In the 2018 mid-term elections, 117 women were elected, 42 of them women of color and three representing LGBTQ groups.

Women comprise nearly 25 percent of voting membership in the 116th Congress—the highest percentage in US history. Of the record 131 women who are serving:

  • 105 are in the House (90 Democrats, 15 Republicans) and 26 are in the Senate (17 Democrats, and nine Republicans)
  • 47 are African American
  • 10 are Asian Pacific American
  • 15 are Hispanic or Latina
  • Two are Native American and are the first female members of federally recognized tribes to serve in Congress
  • One is the first female Muslim representative

Historically, 366 women have been elected or appointed to serve in the US Congress. The first was Jeannette Rankin (R-MT), who was elected to the 65th Congress (1917–19). Since then, women who have served in Congress include:

  • 47 African Americans
  • 13 Asian Pacific Americans
  • 20 Latinx
  • 2 Native Americans

Yet even a century later, many American women are still fighting for equal rights. Women of color and many others in the US and its territories continue to face barriers to voting:

  • In Puerto Rico, residents who are American citizens can vote in US congressional elections and presidential primaries, but are not allowed to vote for president unless they move to the mainland.
  • Nearly 50% of the US prison system population is comprised of women of color, who are prohibited from voting while incarcerated or while on parole in many states, or, in some cases, for life, with certain convictions.
  • Analysts in August 2019 found that nearly 17 million voters were purged between 2016 and 2018.